Steven Bornstein, the former president of both ESPN and ABC Television, has resurfaced as a consultant to the National Football League on television and strategic-media issues, according to the league.
Bornstein, who resigned as ABC Television president last April after less than one year at the helm, will work closely with NFL brass to help the league determine, among other things, whether to offer its NFL Sunday Ticket
out-of-market pay-per-view package to cable operators.
The industry is aggressively pursuing the NFL Sunday Ticket
package, which is currently exclusive to DirecTV Inc. But that agreement expires at the end of the season.
NFL Sunday Ticket
is expected to generate more than $284 million for DirecTV and the league, according to The Carmel Group.
The league is also wrestling with whether to opt out of its current eight-year, $17.6 billion TV rights deal with ESPN and broadcasters ABC, CBS and Fox.
That deal, signed in 1998, has a five-year out clause that takes effect after the 2002 season and allows the league to offer both the broadcast and cable packages to outside bidders.
Starting in October, the NFL has a four-month window to determine whether to renegotiate a new pact.
Cable operators are cautiously optimistic that Bornstein's consultancy will lead to access to the NFL Sunday Ticket
The package remains the only major out-of-market package that cable doesn't offer — the National Basketball Association's "NBA League Pass," the National Hockey League's "NHL Center Ice" and Major League Baseball's "MLB Extra Innings" are all now available through PPV purveyor In Demand.
"[Bornstein's] a smart guy with a terrific record, and bringing him in certainly gives us a person that speaks the same language," In Demand president and CEO Steve Brenner said. "I'm hopeful that [his appointment] will assist in the process."
The league though, would still have to get permission from its Sunday-afternoon broadcast rightsholders — currently CBS and Fox — to give cable access to the package. The networks are concerned that an increase in potential NFL Sunday Ticket
subscribers beyond DirecTV's base of nearly 11 million homes would hurt over-the-air ratings, and attendant ad revenues.
Kagan Associates sports analyst John Mansell said technology advances could help. "The key is digital advertising insertion, so that you don't have any impact in local advertising revenue, which in turn would impact rights fees," he said.